Two years after writing a semi-autobiographical script about body dysmorphia, 2015 Loyola graduate Amy Heller finished filming her first feature production, “My Little Renaissance Girl,” Nov. 21.
During three weeks of filming in Chicago apartments, Lincoln Park’s Cobblestone Restaurant and North Center’s Bughouse Theater, Heller said the movie-making process felt “like a little mosaic,” with multiple scenes directed in various nuances melded together.
“You get to see all these different parts of Amy’s life, how they intertwine together and how a joke that she makes in front of her friends that may be self-deprecating, how that manifests itself when she’s by herself or how her conversations with her boyfriend are then unpacked in her therapy sessions,” Heller, 29, said.
The film follows Amy’s body dysmorphia, a mental illness in which someone obsesses over perceived physical flaws. The memory of a high school classmate relating Amy to a portrait of a Renaissance woman plagues the main character, whose life in modern-day Chicago devolves into illusions of the Renaissance era, all while her friends remain unaware.
To convey the fixations, director Bethany Berg employed frames-within-frames and camera zooms for a “voyeuristic, trapped feeling.”
In one scene, Amy’s friends eat cookies as they joke about not being able to work at a bakery without gaining weight. The scene continues normally for everyone else as Amy begins to imagine herself as the cookie, decked in a Renaissance-style dress.
The takes of zooming in on Heller and the cookie were “very à la ‘Taxi Driver,’” Berg said.
“My Little Renaissance Girl” also tackles unplanned pregnancy, which actor Lauren Partch said was her favorite scene to film with Heller.
“It’s just such an intimate but funny scene,” Partch, who’s also the film’s co-producer and head of marketing, said. “It was really just this authentic moment of us saying, ‘Are we going to celebrate? Are we going to scream-cry?’”
Viewers will have to wait until 2023 to see how the two friends react since the film is in its editing and fundraising stage. The project has met $30,000 of its $40,000 goal on GoFundMe as of Dec. 7.
Apart from COVID-19-induced delays, the team said it was difficult to translate Heller’s script to the screen without having any prior film experience.
Since many potential male producers were hesitant to join the project, Partch said pitching the short film to future co-producer Anthony Gibson at Andersonville’s Kopi Cafe was a “defining moment” in her life.
“We were met with a lot of, ‘You’re not ready,’ ‘I don’t know,’ ‘Have you ever done this before? I’ve done this a lot. And it’s really hard,’” Partch, 30, recalled.
“When we met Anthony, he just was like, ‘This script is amazing. We’d love to do this. How can I make this happen?’”
As they trudged through multiple obstacles, the 90% female-led cast and crew stayed passionate about the project.
“It’s the kind of movie I wish I could have seen when I was younger,” Partch, who also has experienced body dysmorphia, said.
Berg said directing the film felt therapeutic for her.
“In my experience, if you’ve been going through something — anxiety, depression, body dysmorphia — I feel like your life is very mosaic-like,” Berg said. “You will still have moments that feel very normal and then you’re in your house alone and everything sucks. [In the film,] that fractured feeling hopefully comes through.”